Updates are coming for a telematics unit that hacked a Corvette

Security updates are being distributed for a telematics control unit (TCU) that security researchers showed could be manipulated to remotely apply the brakes of a Corvette, according to the device’s French manufacturer.

The device is a small dongle that plugs into the On-Board Diagnostics II (OBD-II) port on a vehicle, usually located under the driver’s side dashboard. TCUs with cellular connections are increasingly being used in vehicles by insurance companies to monitor drivers or for fleet management.

At the USENIX security conference this week in Washington, D.C., academics from the University of California demonstrated how a C4E family dongle from Paris-based Mobile Devices Ingenierie could be remotely accessed.

TCU’s collect data from a vehicle and have access to its CAN bus, which interfaces with a variety of sensors. The academics showed they could send a remote command by text message to the TCU and access the CAN bus.

For example, they turned on the Corvette’s windshield wipers and applied its brakes while the car was traveling at a low speed, according to a video.

Aaron Solomon, CEO at Mobile Devices, said via email Wednesday that his company is identifying vulnerable deployed devices and is aiming to secure them with a new security pack within 10 days.

“We are currently identifying—together with our customers—all the deployments that were made without activating all the security mechanisms and making sure the security pack gets applied to all vehicles that are concerned,” he wrote.

Part of the issue with Mobile Devices’ TCUs lies in how the devices are distributed. Solomon wrote his company’s TCUs are sold to integrators in a state that allows those companies to have maximum flexibility to develop their own applications.

The TCUs have a production mode, which if activated, provides stronger security, Solomon wrote. But it’s up to integrators to decide when and how to activate that mode.

Mobile Devices is also changing its approach to how it handles security on its end. It has come up with a new set of rules that will automatically activate the security package when devices are deployed.

“The purpose of these rules is that there can’t be any deployment without all the security features activated,” he wrote.

The Corvette used by the researchers didn’t have any vulnerabilities itself, and the attack just focused on the Mobile Devices’ TCU. But car manufacturers also install their own cellular-connected telematics units, which have also been proved vulnerable.

At the Black Hat security conference last week, researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek showed how a Jeep Cherokee’s brakes could be applied by exploiting security weaknesses in UConnect, a telematics unit used for entertainment, navigation and other controls. Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles as a result of the findings.

The flurry of car-hacking research has also prompted U.S. lawmakers to call for legislation that ensures vehicles are better protected from attacks.

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